And I ran – I ran so far away

On Saturday Mr. M and I completed a run that has pretty much crippled me (almost three days out at that.)

In preparation for Tough Mudder – a race we’ve signed up to participate in this June, we’ve been ramping up our training sessions and pushing ourselves harder than normal when it comes to our workouts.

(We’ve also signed our lives away just in case either one (or both) of us croaks on the course. If any of you have anything to tell us between now and the 23rd of the month, speak now, or forever hold your peace.)

He’s been focusing on running longer distances, and I’ve been working on building strength and gaining speed.

I’ve always loved to run far. I’ve just never like to sprint. What’s the point in going all out (or pushing your body to failure) when you have 10+, 15+, 20+ kilometers to cover?

The only time I could really do that was with a finish line in sight and the entire course length at my back.

But like I said, I’m moving (slowly, but surely) out of my comfort zone.

Saturday morning broke cold, but the air lacked the chill that has defined these long, past winter months. The grey sky spackled by coal coloured clouds, dripping fat drops of rain onto my ponytail, on the peaks of my cheekbones, and in between my eyelashes.

I put on, and took off my toque three times before leaving it behind.

We ran a quick 4k up the (continuous) hill to New Westminster Secondary School’s track. It’s a fabulous surface – soft, spongy, with enough bounce and give – well maintained and well visited on that murky, moody morning.

We ran three 100m all out – my lungs on fire, my legs like jelly, my arms flailing like two propellers, free falling, faltering.

Sucking in air to cool down my screaming brain.

It had been so long since I ran like that – I don’t remember the last time I gave until there was nothing left to give.

A young boy, running laps, while his older brother skulked around the soccer pitch in the middle of the stadium, stopped in amazement and yelled out “WOW!” as M and I tore down lanes six and seven.

You should see how quick M is – he is the Road Runner, or The Flash – all burned rubber and singed tail feathers.

After we finished at the track, we completed the rest of our 10k loop. Our pace was very fast – sub 4:30 per km. And believe you me, by the end, the loop had finished us.

… 

My earliest running memory is from about the age of four.  I am at a park with my family: my mother, father, and two sisters. 

The summer breeze ripples through the weeping willows, dandelions poke their sunny faces out of the uncut grass and I am tearing around the periphery, again and again, like some pint-sized Orestes, keeping my furies at bay.

Having challenged my parents to a footrace, one, two, three, four times, they eventually, gently, encouraged me to run a lap on my own, so they could catch their wind and perhaps formulate a plan on how to deal with their budding long-legged lollopper.

One lap turned to two, two to three, and they practically had to tie me down when it was time to go home.

Speedy Gonzalez my father would always call me.

Ariba Ariba! I’d reply, before attempted to dash off, barefoot and wild-eyed to complete another tour of my make believe stadium, for make-believe admirers, and fans.

When I was eleven, my father began taking me out for runs with him, down at Jericho beach.  Summer mornings spent running the gravel path between the “nice” concession stand and the start of the hill leading up to UBC, trying to match my stride to the easy flow of my father’s.

Mr. M's and my running course while we lived in England. Edgbaston reservoir.

Every day trying something new, maybe running a little farther or sprinting a little faster, trying to control the rhythm of my breathing and becoming comfortable with the beat of my heart.

We watched Chariots of Fire together.  I analyzed the men as they sped around the school courtyard, racing the clock, racing each other, racing their fears, racing themselves.

As a teenager I ran before school, after school.  Like Forest Gump said: I was going places.

I. WAS. RUNNING.

I read about Atalanta, the completely kick-ass (in my opinion) Greek deity who refused to marry anyone who could not beat her in a footrace.  Those who tried and could not would face decapitation and many, many suitors lost their heads in their attempts to win her hand.

When I grew up, I wanted to be her.

Dancing like a dancing thing (either that or it's my Bluth chicken impression) after my first half-marathon.

My love for running has helped heal me.  It pushes me; it has made me grow not only as an athlete but as a person.  It has introduced me to new people and reunited me with old friends.

But more importantly, it is my form of meditation and calm; it provides an outlet for the voices in my head and a space for new ideas to percolate and brew.

It gives me an opportunity to create change and be inspired.  It allows me to inspire.

Running moves me.

So tonight, despite tight hamstrings, and tender collar bones; aches in my back, and no-laugh abs, what did I do once I got off the metro, having just left work?

I went for a run.

And I’ll continue to do so. Maybe tomorrow. Definitely the day after that.

This weekend I’ll push it again, harder this time, with Mr. M, my running partner in crime.

Seriously folks – we are two tough mudders.

We are runners.

Postcards from St. Petersburg

Spotlight: Russia

I left for St. Petersburg in June 2007, having won a scholarship to attend a two-week long literary conference. 

With my fledgling Russian backed by a 100-level textbook and a second hand travel guide, I landed in city that has the capacity to enrapture you, shock you – change you – if you give it the chance.

Myself and the great Alexandr Sergeyevich Puskin.

This is a snapshot – one day of my travels:

Nevesky Prospekt is the largest street I have ever seen.

Kazan Cathedral, on Nevesky Prospekt.

It is a six lane free for all, with luxury cars, fold-up minivans, off duty cabs, soviet era trolley cars and the odd, slightly-crazed biker all jockeying for position on the road.

The street is flanked by pink and green palaces, whose thinning paint and rust-stained statues compete for your attention with multi-coloured, cavernous cathedrals, renovated, glistening pharmacies (whose windows advertise the sale of anti-cellulite cream) and extravagantly priced furriers that require a password upon entrance.

On the sidewalks sit the legless ex-soldiers, wearing their cigarette stained army uniforms, silently staring at their skateboards and starving dogs.  I like to walk the two blocks to the bookstore on the corner of Gribeodov Canal, just to stare at the Church of Spilled Blood.  It is a kaleidoscope of grotesque baroque and neoclassical absurdity.

One block of Nevesky Prospekt.

As I make my way to the university, I smile at the dedushka who parks himself outside the twenty-four hour “Kafe haus.”  I have never seen someone play a saw with a violin bow before.  His thick glasses reflect the glare of a neon sign blinking “cigarettes!” from across the street.

I think about buying apple blini from the vendor across the road.

Russia makes me both homesick and brave.  The first time I rode the metro, I was by myself.

This was no mean feat.

Over two million people take this form of transit every day.  At some stations, you can’t see where the trains are coming from, because station doors (which control the the train doors) do not open until the cars come to a complete stop, in order to prevent people from killing themselves on the platforms.

Also, because Peter the Great had his city built smack dab in the middle of a soggy bog land, the station is almost one hundred meters below ground, and when I took a photo at the top of the escalator, I couldn’t see the bottom.

The view from the top of the escalator.

In order to purchase my zheton (fare token) I cue up with what approximately two hundred others.  Our bodies are packed together, and I’m not sure what line I’m standing in.  We are a sea cacophony.

I clutch my rubles so tight that I can’t get the smell of the copper coins out of my skin for almost two days.   Voices buzz and squawk out of every possible channel.  It discombobulates.  Overhead speakers crackle, cell phones yammer, children cry, students gossip.

My roommate Laura told me that she is afraid to descend this far underground, for fear of an earthquake.  She doesn’t want to meet any of the 40,000 Swedish POW’s whose bones act as cement for the St. Petersburg metro, its cars and their tracks.

When I finally make it to the front of the line, the woman behind the (what I think has to be) bullet proof glass looks as though she has been living in her cubicle for the past three days.  Boredom is etched in her face: thin lines crisscross the width of her forehead and a sheer glaze coats the contours of her eyeballs.  Stands of hair spill from her sloppy bun, and her blouse is done up Samedi-Dimanche with the top buttons askew.

Her slightly-parted mouth looks to be stuck permanently in mid-yawn.

“Odna zheton,” I tell her, slipping the money through the tray.  She doesn’t even look at me, as she passes me back one tiny metal token.  I immediately slip it into the slot of the turnstile to my right.  Amazingly I am granted the right to pass.

Next time I’m taking this bus. (Straight to outer space of course)

Visions of large, moustachioed men looming out of invisible corners, interrogation chambers and confessions slips slink back into my subconscious.

It is only now that I realize how hard my heart had been beating; with each breath I take, I can feel it punching again and again against the fabric of my t-shirt.

When the train comes I walk into the car and sit down.  As it begins to move, the sensation of the ride feels the same as back home.  Indeed, everyone around me looks the same as back home.  Everybody is minding their own business and pretending that they cannot see the other passengers, just the same as back home.

However, I count the number of stops until I have to get off because unlike back at home, I cannot understand the station announcer.

She speaks too fast.